Sometimes we can reignite kids love of reading- or stir it up to start with- if we can get them hooked on a great book series. There are some middle grade and high school series that have become really popular because of movies made about them, but there are some other series that aren't as well known but are great reads as well. Here are ten of my favorite series for middle grade and high school readers.
The Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry (4 books)
Although I thoroughly enjoyed The Giver when I was in school and later as a teacher, I didn't realize it was only the first in a series. I've since corrected my mistake, and I've recently listened to the other three books on Audible.
The series is a futuristic, dystopian society series. It opens in a place where anything negative has been eliminated- including feelings. It's soon clear to the reader- and the protagonist in the story- that this "perfection" has come at a price. The following books don't seem to fit in with the first- or at times even with each other. But it's all tied together nicely at the end.
This is a classic that I loved as a kid and still enjoy. I read aloud the first book to the kids some time ago. A Wrinkle in Time makes a great read aloud, and it's always my hope that reading the first book in a series will encourage them to read the others on their own.
The first book in the series- A Wrinkle in Time- takes place in current time- the 1970s when it was written- but involves time travel. So there is a sci fi aspect to it. Meg, one of the main characters travels in time and place with her friend and brother to rescue her father who is being held captive on a planet that's been overcome by evil.
As a note, these books do have some spiritual elements to them, and this concerns some parents. Because I read the first book aloud, we used this as a great discussion starter.
The Percy Jackson series is a newer one. I read it along with Charles who was about 11 when he first picked it up. I have to admit that I really liked the whole series. There are movies made about the first two books, but they aren't very true to the book, and I didn't think they were well done at all.
The series features Greek gods and characters from Greek mythology. The main characters are demigods- children of a god and a mortal. Percy Jackson- our hero- discovers his true identity as a young teen, and he heads off to Camp Half-Blood to learn about his life and to meet other demigod. As it turns out, some of them, along with a few other heroes, are destined to save the world from a clash of Greek gods.
If you've studied Greek mythology at all, this is a great series to use to remember and discuss some of that. There are a few accompanying reference books that feature Greek gods and myths such as Percy Jackson's Greek Gods and Percy Jackson's Greek Heroes.
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall (currently 4 books)
We stumbled upon the Penderwicks several years ago when we picked up the first one as an audiobook to listen to in the car. Although the main characters are four sisters, there's also a male counterpart. And the story was as interesting to Charles as to the girls. Because the Penderwick family has so many adventures, these were great to read aloud.
The Penderwick family consists of four sisters who live with their dad as their mom passed away when the youngest was born. The books open during a summer vacation in which the Penderwicks have quite a few adventures and meet a friend- Jeffery who will feature in all of the other books.
Many series for this age group seem dark and feature a dystopian society. I like the Penderwicks because they are light and happy and full of good feelings and the love of family.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (3 books)
I know many parents have been divided over whether or not to let kids read The Hunger Games. I read the whole series, and I really like this one. There is some graphic violence, so you may want to have kids wait until they're older to read. But I thought they were very well done, and as a side benefit, the older kids and I have had some great discussions about them.
The Hunger Games is a futuristic series. The world as everyone knows it, is all under the thumb of The Capitol. It's obvious that only an elite group have a good life, while most of society lives in poverty and often misery. One of the worst parts of life for them all is that they are forced to have their teens compete each year in Hunger Games, a ruthlessly violent game where there can only be one winner, and all of the losers die. Katniss- who becomes our hero- ends up as one of the Hunger Games players. And, finally. the time may have come for the people to rise up against injustice.
Again, these are very violent books. Younger sensitive teens may not be able to read them. The books, of course, are much better than the movies; but I do think that this movie series has at least been true to the books.
Of course this list wouldn't be complete without the classic Lord of the Rings. The books are more difficult to read than kids may be expecting- especially if you have a child who watched the movies first as mine did. If the reading level is too difficult, you can listen to the Audible version.
The classic series really begins with The Hobbit. In this book, Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit, heads out on a great adventure and ends up with a magic ring that is destined to bring evil to the world- especially if possessed by the evil Sauron. The continuing series is all about destroying the ring and fighting the evil.
This was another series in which I read the first one aloud to whet the interest of the kids. The Hobbit wasn't that difficult to read aloud, although I just couldn't make it through the others as read alouds. There is so much description and so many characters and stories going on at once that it just was too difficult. I love reading them with the kids, though, because these books make for great discussion. Although Tolkien claims they aren't allegories, he was a Christian, and his worldview shines through, giving great jumping off points for meaty discussions.
Redwall by Brian Jacques (21 books that I found)
We've never made it through all of the Redwall books, but we've read a number of them aloud, listened to some on Audible, and had some kids read some independently. It's a great series that can appeal to boys or girls as the books have great male and female characters. One caveat: the characters in the stories are animals- often mice. I know from my experience that readers typically either love books with animal personification or hate them. I think one reason we were able to get hooked on these is because I began by reading them aloud.
In the first book we're introduced to a company of mice who live in Redwall Abbey. As the story progresses, the mice and their friends must protect the abbey and surrounding areas from a horde of evil characters- mostly rats- led by Cluny the Scourge- the head evil rat. Other books in the series have some of the same characters, although some are a totally different story line.
The theme throughout all of the Redwall books is the struggle between good and evil. And even though the main characters are animals, there is quite a bit of violence in these books. Younger readers may be too sensitive. But if you have readers who enjoy a Medieval style story with talking animals, this is an awesome series that I've often enjoyed as much- or more than- the kids.
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (9 main volumes with many, many spin offs)
Although the Little House books are often used with young readers, the series can definitely grow with kids as Laura herself gets older throughout the books. Girls more than boys may prefer these since the main characters are girls, but there is excitement and adventure that may appeal to some boys as well.
These classic books are a fictionalized account of the author's childhood. She writes about a family who travels West as pioneers, and she writes about the adventures they encounter, the difficulties that come, day to day life, and the bond of family.
Often younger readers can get bogged down in the lengthy descriptions in the Little House books. I've usually read the first few aloud and then let kids pick up the others as they get older and can read them more independently.
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (7 books)
This is another classic series that I can't leave out. I love the Chronicles of Narnia. I love to read them aloud. I can't even count the number of times I've read them aloud to all of the kids or to sets of kids. As I write this post, I'm currently reading through the series once again with my younger girls.
The Chronicles are part fantasy, part allegory, part adventure, part Medieval. They begin when a young girl stumbles into a secret world through a seemingly ordinary wardrobe in our world in the 1940s. The books were not written in what ended up being their chronological order. We've chosen to read them different ways at different times. But my favorite way to read them is in chronological order, not written order.
Some people think of the Chronicles as being for younger children. I think this is another series that definitely grows with you. Every time I read it, I get something more out of it. Because of the allegories to our Christian life, children- and indeed we ourselves- will understand and relate to different things at different seasons of life.
The Chronicles are an amazing series to read aloud because they are so rich and meaningful to discuss. If you'd like to listen and discuss but don't want to read aloud, the radio theater version from Focus on the Family is awesome.
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (8 books)
The Anne books are also some of my all time favorites. The series definitely may appeal more to girls, although if you read the first book aloud to the whole family, you may hook the boys as well.
Anne is a spunky orphan when she comes to live with Matthew and Marilla at Green Gables. The first book makes a great read aloud because Anne has some very humorous adventures. Throughout the series Anne grows into a young woman, gets married, and has her own home.
Like the Little House books, the Anne books grow with the reader because Anne grows. Younger readers will get caught up in Anne's antics in the first book, and as they get older, they'll appreciate her growing relationships and the events of her life.
These are ten great book series that might just hook your more reluctant readers. Read the first book aloud to the family or listen to it together, and then let that spark their interest in picking up the rest of the series.
Do you have other book series recommendations for this age group? I'd love for you to share them with me in the comments.